Stephen Curry scored 30 points to help Davidson give Maryland a scare on Thursday.
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The nightmare scenario was playing out for Maryland. The nation's hottest team from two weeks ago, winners of seven straight to close the ACC regular season, had tanked in the first round in its conference tournament against last-place Miami, and on Thursday at HSBC Arena was flirting with the dubious honor of First Upset Victim in the NCAA tournament.
The fourth-seeded Terps, a team of chiseled, mature-looking ACC athletes, were letting a Davidson freshman with the body of a 13-year-old light them up from every conceivable angle. Stephen Curry, the Doogie Howser of the NCAA tournament, actually turned 19 on Wednesday, and as Wofford coach Mike Young said earlier this week, "scores like he's 28." Curry's pedigree -- he's the son of former NBA gunner Dell Curry -- counteracts his slenderness, as he averaged 21.2 points per game this season and had poured in 23 by the 18:56 mark on the second half on Thursday. He had come out of the break on fire, hitting a 3-pointer in D.J. Strawberry's face, blowing by Strawberry for a layup, and then assisting on a Max Paulhus Gosselin bucket to put the 13th-seeded Wildcats up 52-44 with 17:32 to go. Davidson was knocking on the door of the second round. But would it only be a tease?
For Maryland coach Gary Williams, that stretch -- as well as the backdoor lay-in Curry had scored on late in the first half -- was a continuation of an actual nightmare. The previous evening, Williams had tormented himself by watching an ESPN Classic marathon of first-round upsets that included the UCLA-Princeton game [from 1996]. "I didn't want to sleep last night, so I watched that," Williams said. "I probably should have stopped watching it and watched more Davidson tape."
Most Davidson tape includes prolific scoring performances from Curry, the Charlotte, N.C.-born recruit who didn't get a scholarship offer from his father's alma mater, Virginia Tech -- or any other ACC teams -- and became a mid-major sensation instead. Strawberry, the long-armed lockdown specialist who was assigned to defend him, had said the day before that Curry was "not overly quick." That was obviously not the case early on, and Wildcats fans were yelling, "Hey, Strawberry, do you think he's slow now?"
Complications began to arise in Curry's upset quest, though, just as Davidson had the Terps on the ropes. Maryland pulled off its full-court pressure, which had broken down and given Curry open looks in transition, and went into a traditional halfcourt man-to-man. Strawberry, a senior with the end of his college career looming, rediscovered his defensive mojo at the right time. "I knew that they were going to continue to go to [Curry], and I either had to step it up or he was going to beat us by himself," he said.
As Strawberry -- himself the son of a pro athlete, the ex-Mets slugger Darryl -- picked up the pressure, Curry began to wilt, going 12 minutes and 24 seconds without a basket in the second half. "It was a little frustrating," Curry said of Strawberry's ball-denial D, "because not many people have done that to me all year." The Wildcats fell behind midway through Curry's drought; a layup by Bambale Osby put Maryland up for good at the 9:53 mark, 60-59, and the Terps went on to win 82-70.
Curry fouled out with 21 seconds left, and walked to the Davidson bench, clutching the loose edges of his baggy red jersey, as he so often does during breaks on the floor. He seemed oblivious to the standing ovation he was receiving from the Wildcats crowd, among them his father and mother. The kid, who wears his dad's old number 30, had proven he could play in the ACC; Williams would tell him exactly that in the handshake line. The 30 points Curry scored were little consolation, though, after his Cinderella bid had sputtered out. Player Who Impressed: Bambale Osby, reserve forward, Maryland. The afroed Osby looks like he was cross-pollinated with the DNA of Ben Wallace and Lou Ferrigno, but he's neither as defensively talented as Big Ben or as scary as the Hulk. Enough criticism, though: On Thursday Osby was the unsung hero of the Terps' first-round escape. With starting forward Ekene Ibekwe in foul trouble, Osby came off the bench to score 11 points and grab six rebounds -- 5.2 points and 2.2 rebounds above his average. His back-to-back buckets in the ninth minute of the second half helped alter the momentum of the game. "Bambale has been big in a lot of big games for us," Williams said. "He seems to play the best when we really need him."
Courtside Confidential: With 2:18 left in the first half, the Maryland band broke into a rendition of Gnarls Barkley's Crazy. As ubiquitous as that song is right now -- I heard it in on the PA in a grocery store and a CVS earlier this week -- it was a nice break from the standard fight-song fare. ... Davidson fans borrowed from Duke's Terp-taunting playbook, breaking out the Cameron Crazies' "Sweat Gary Sweat" chant on multiple occasions early in the game. Williams appeared to be sweating profusely. ... The last-minute exchange between the Davidson rooting section and Maryland freshman Greivis Vasquez was my personal highlight. The notoriously brash Vasquez, wearing an evil grin, made a gesture toward the fans with his hands that basically said, "bring it on." With the game out of hand, this riled the Wildcat faithful, who shouted such insults as, "No class, Vasquez!," "Did you shave your legs today, 21?" and, in what I think was a reference to Horatio Sanz' idiotic Saturday Night Live character, "Vasquez Vasquez!" Greivis kept on staring at them, showed his palms again, and then fixed his gaze to the scoreboard. Classic.
Big Picture: The Terps looked far from invincible. They may have pulled out a 12-point win, but this still isn't the same team that tore through the ACC -- racking up two wins over Duke and one over North Carolina -- to close the regular season. Thursday's victory was only a moderate step up from the debacle against the Hurricanes in the ACC tournament. While Davidson put up a good fight, the bottom line is that the Terps let a highly inexperienced, one-dimensional mid-major hang around for nearly 35 minutes. A more disciplined and balanced Butler team could give them trouble on Saturday, and unless Williams' boys bring back their February magic, there's little chance of them striking fear into top-seeded Florida in the Sweet 16.
Butler's defense was back on today, and Graves was finally hitting some shots (unlike the last month or so when Butler was losing some close games). Maryland could struggle with them, no doubt, given Butler doesn't turn the ball over and can screech the game to a halt on a team that likes to run (see the Tennessee game earlier this year).
In your closer look, you don't give much credit to Davidson. The Wildcats only won 29 games this year, and today was I believe their first loss this calendar year (last loss was in December). Everyone knew this would be a tough fight, and the Terps played like they have all year. Sure they beat North Carolina; they were also behind by 13 in that game. So give more credit to Davidson. The Wildcats proved they were among the best 64 teams in the nation. The Terps, however, live to see another day, and they'll be ready for everyone's darling Butler.
Hey Luke, Just wanted to say that the Terps can beat anyone at anytime. As a UNC fan, I wouldn't want to face them anytime soon. I don't think Butler will be within 10 of them. Florida will have their hands full. MU matches up well with them. Inside leapers, lenky fellows. Don't count out U of M. GO UNC!
Sorry for barely winning an NCAA Tournament game Luke. The team apologizes. Loser.
Survive and advance. Maryland played fine. It's tough to blow a team out when the other team takes ridiculous threes and hits them from the parking lot. A lot of NCAA teams would have lost that game today.
There were nights with the Hornets when Dell Curry seemed like he could score as many points as he wanted to. Looks like his son is a chip off the old block. Give the Terps some credit for shutting him down when it mattered.